“And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.” (Acts 28:15, AV)
In 2019, after ten-years of ministry in Portsmouth, I retired from the full-time pastorate. It honestly was a difficult time for me. I had prepared for that moment for two years as in 2017, I announced my plans and brought in a young seminary graduate who I would mentor into the position while he served as an associate. Part of my discouragement was that it seemed like many in the congregation were very excited about seeing me go and turning the reigns over to the young guy. While I knew that this change was essential for the future of the church and that this feeling was just my perception, it was still difficult.
About two years later, my wife and I took a long two-week trip to the Northeast United States. Our primary reason for the trip was to visit my son and his wife to see our new grandson. While there we visited with some Christian friends in the area of New Hampshire. One of the things we did was stop in my former church for worship and to see the old gang again. I was overwhelmed by the reception that those from my former congregation gave me. In fact, I spent a couple days in nearly non-stop fellowship with them. The love they expressed towards me and Chris truly disproved my former thoughts. Yes, they were excited about the future with the young pastor, but they were truly appreciative of my time with them. This greatly lifted my countenance.
Fellowship with other believers is something unique. It is very special and quite distinct from anything the world can offer. There is a genuineness in Christian fellowship that is born of the Spirit of God. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth regarding this special divine aspect of Christian relationships. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, AV). The work of the Spirit creates a very unique bond between all believers, one that the world cannot understand.
On his trip to Rome, Paul and his companions stopped in Puteoli. There some believers showed them hospitality by giving them accommodations for a week. Moreover, when believers in Rome got wind that Paul was near, a group of them left Rome to meet up with him some forty-three miles away at the forum of Appius, a two-day’s journey by foot.
The text states that when Paul saw the brothers who traveled from Rome, that “he thanked God, and took courage.” Paul was grateful for their presence and their presence strengthened him, giving him courage. Christians, by their presence with other believers do much to emotionally support and encourage one another.
Yes, this was the Apostle Paul, a believer of great notoriety. We would expect one like Paul to be greeted with a great entourage. I have been to denominational conferences where some of the mega-church pastors have been swarmed by a curious fan-base. Yet, what we see with Paul is different. These are believers who seriously cared for Paul. In true Christian community, we find people who sincerely care for one another, those who will go to great lengths to be with people during their journey in life. It is not something that happens to just the prominent Christian leaders. It is something deep rooted by the Spirit into every believer to show love one to another in Christ.